Primary cultures of essentially pure human term trophoblasts were studied to determine their ability to support the expression of complete proviral clones of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and their permissiveness to this virus. Transient expression of molecular clones derived from two biologically distinct strains, BRU and NDK, resulted in the release of comparable amounts of infectious virions, which were rescued by cocultivation with permissive CEM-SS cells. Trophoblasts were inoculated with three HIV-1 isolates, RF, 3B and NDK, which differ in their cytopathogenicity on T lymphoblastoid cells. Infection of cells by all three strains was demonstrated by the presence of virus-specific proteins in the trophoblasts and the detection of virus gene-related DNA sequences by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), but cells were more susceptible to infection with the RF and NDK strains than with the 3B strain. The virus was readily transmitted to the CEM-SS cells with simultaneous formation of syncytia between the two cell types. Flow cytometry and direct radioimmunoassay revealed no trace of the CD4 receptor on the surface of the cultured trophoblasts and CD4 mRNA could not be detected by Northern blot hybridization, although a minimal amount of CD4-associated mRNA was detected by PCR. Our data suggest that infection of trophoblasts occurs independently of the pathway mediated by CD4.


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